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When the Truth Is Shown to Be Lies

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

It’s been a year since President Obama lifted the Bush administration’s restrictions on the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Nevertheless, religious opponents of the research still claim that embryonic stem cells have yet to yield any treatments. They insist that adult stem cell research will render embryonic stem cell research unnecessary.

Well, guess what?

The Religious Right’s position on this recently took a big hit with this news:

Massachusetts based biotech company Advanced Cell Technology recently announced that the FDA has granted orphan drug status to MA09-hRPE – an embryonic stem cell derived treatment for a specific form of blindness (Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy). Orphan drug status is targeted to those therapies which are designed to treat fewer than 200,000 Americans and gives ACT access to tax credits, grants for clinical trials, and a seven year exclusivity to market MA09-hRPE. This is the first such FDA approval for an embryonic stem cell derived therapy and ACT plans on using the orphan drug status to accelerate clinical testing. While Advanced Cell Technology has something of a checkered past, this recent FDA status could signal not only an approaching success for the MA09-hRPE treatment, but also a promising advancement in the company’s goal to pioneer new forms of regenerative medicine.

But even as this good news demolishes the Religious Right’s argument, it is not the first research to lead to potential treatments. Early last year it was reported that “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the go-ahead for Geron Corporation to start a phase I safety trial of its therapy GRNOPC1 for spinal cord injuries.” And prior to that, in 2008 Dr. Robert Lanza was able to create human blood from embryonic stem cells.

The Religious Right’s claims that “adult stem cell research making embryonic stem cell research unnecessary” is both politically disingenuous and scientifically counter productive in so far as it has discouraged the search for treatments for disease and disability.

I’ve personally spoken with adult stem cell researchers who also firmly support embryonic stem cell research. They have pointed out to me that both avenues must be pursued.

In 2006 I wrote about a seminar hosted by the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn which promoted the Church’s official position on stem cell research. I was there. Several of my co-religionists who oppose embryonic stem cell research repeatedly spoke about how embryonic stem cell will not yield cures, again singing the old refrain that there has yet to be a single cure from them. They also conveniently omitted how adult stem cell research has been going on since the 1930s – bone marrow transplanting is one form – while human embryonic stem cell research only began truly taking off in late 1998. Apparently this mendacity was even a bit much for guest speaker, neocon Eric Cohen. To his credit, Cohen chided his hosts that indeed the research will most likely result in treatments and perhaps cures. He pleaded with his fellow embryonic stem cell research opponents to voice their opposition on purely moral grounds.

And therein lies the rub. It is odd that religious opponents of embryonic stem cell research dissemble the facts on this important issue. Is it because they believe that their moral view on the subject is too weak or do they feel entitled to tell noble lies simply because, in their view, the ends justify the means.

I don’t know the answer to that question. But I do know that any further use of this cherished argument may now be fairly described as an outright lie.

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3 Responses

  1. Frank, thank you for this outstanding reflection.

    I’m particularly struck by your conclusion,

    “And therein lies the rub. It is odd that religious opponents of embryonic stem cell research dissemble the facts on this important issue. Is it because they believe that their moral view on the subject is too weak or do they feel entitled to tell noble lies simply because, in their view, the ends justify the means.”

    That’s a point I had just made in a comment to a poster on a thread here. From my experience, you are absolutely right that those who dissemble the facts on important moral issues often do so precisely because, at some level, they recognize that their position cannot stand on its own with such dissimulation.

    Having grown up in the household of a lawyer, I appreciate your legal-minded regard for building your case around facts. I wish that regard were equally strong in the heated discussions of moral issues going on in our religious tradition today, with its emphasis on wedding faith and reason.

  2. Thanks for this Frank. I don’t write on embryonic stem cell research because I’m too personally involved as it represents real hope for my daughter. Hope often clouds my ability to reasonably assess the counter arguments.

    Intuitively I know there is something bogus about taking a class of bio matter and giving it the same status as my daughter. But that might not be anything more than the mother in me and we all know the powers that be don’t feel compelled to take the intuitive intelligence of women into any of their equations.

  3. Anytime Colleen. And I’ll say a prayer for your daughter.

    As a Catholic, this is how I approach the issue:

    All four branches of Judaism support this research on the basis of Pikuach nefesh: saving a life in being. Jesus is a Jew.

    Jewish law states that for the first forty days, the embryo/fetus has the status of water. There is nothing in the Gospels where Jesus refutes this concept of halakic tradition. Thus, there is at least a high presumption that Jesus–who made healing a key part of his ministry–would support this research.

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